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  • Writer's pictureSriram Chidambaram

Swiss Football: An anomaly to Swiss Society

When you think of Switzerland, you think of pristine lakes flanked by green hills and tremendous Snow-capped mountains. You think of chocolate and cheese, and wealthy bankers hustling in expensive suits to work. You think of Swiss watches and precise, efficient public transportation. If I were to describe the country in four words (before I visited), it would have been – beautiful, civilized, boring, and expensive. While all this is true, Switzerland, like every other country, has more than one side to the picture.

‘The other side’ is characterized by haphazard graffiti on city-walls and copious amounts of cigarette smoke in the air – absolutely nothing wrong with this but it does not rhyme with the outsider’s vision of the alpine nation. However, nothing epitomizes the ‘other side’ of Switzerland more than domestic Swiss football.


Football clubs in Switzerland have not really turned heads in European competition in recent years. While teams like FC Basel and BSC Young Boys have had good showings, they have come in preliminary rounds, which do not garner as much attention Worldwide. Furthermore, the television coverage rarely gives you a good idea of the events in the stadium. Hence, there is a sort of mystery surrounding Swiss football and people do not really understand the football culture here.


Pyroshow in the Grasshopper Club Zurich end, ahead of the Zurich derby on February 19th, 2023.


To start off, club football in Switzerland is dominated by the ultra scene. Being wedged in between Italy, Germany and France, the influence of these countries does not fail extend to football fandom. Ultra culture in Europe is said to have originated in Italy and football supporters in Germany and France have taken it to another level. When you are surrounded by such a demographic, you are bound to pick up some good (and not so good) tendencies.


Having spent four months in Switzerland, I was able to attend six top-flight games and I can assure you the stadium experience is extremely unique and mind-boggling. For example, Servette FC (a club I frequented and grew an affection for during my time in Switzerland) receives an average attendance of under 9000 in their 30,000-seater stadium. However, their ultra group Section Grenat, who are always present, produce enough noise to make up for the empty seats. At one end you have the Tribune Sud that remains closed to the public due to the lack of demand, while the other end is filled with ultras who impress with pyro shows, choreos and sing all game long.


In the German side of Switzerland, clubs receive better crowds – St. Gallen, Winterthur and Young Boys nearly sold out their stadiums every game this past season. Anyone who is familiar with Swiss football will tell you that Swiss-German Ultras can more than compete with their German counterparts. Ultras of FC Zurich, Young Boys, Basel, and Luzern have gained a reputation for tremendous tifos, intimidating corteos and overall incredible support. However, they are also known to be quite notorious, making headlines in numerous infamous fan incidents.


A massive tifo unveiled in the BSC Young Boys supporter section as the players are about to walk onto the pitch.


For instance, in 2016, FC Zurich’s relegation to the second division was confirmed on the final day of the season. The Zürcher Südkurve (FCZ Ultras) were not impressed and hundreds of individuals, dressed in black jackets and ski masks stormed the players’ tunnel after the final whistle, demanding a meeting with the board. Similarly in 2019, when Grasshopper Club Zurich were losing 4 – 0 to Luzern - a result which would see them get relegated from the top-flight for the first time in 68 years - their supporters threatened to storm the pitch and forced their players to hand them their shirts. The game was consequently called-off and GC went down.

No one was injured in either of these incidents, but it clearly put the safety of players and club staff at risk. While this is not the right way to go about things, you can see the power football supporters have in matters regarding their club in Switzerland. If they feel the players are not ‘fit to wear the shirt’, they demand it back. If the club’s future is in jeopardy, they force a meeting with the executives. Nonetheless, it is amusing how riotous football supporters can be, in what we assume to be a ‘peaceful’ and ‘ordered’ Swiss society (I wonder if the United Nations knows).


However, this is not all. There are so many ugly incidents involving football supporters in Switzerland. The most infamous of them all must be what is now referred to as ‘The Disgrace of Basel’. On the 13th of May 2006, FC Basel hosted FC Zurich in the final match of the 2005-06 season. Basel were at the top of the table, three points ahead of second placed FCZ. If Basel won or drew the game, they would be crowned champions of the Swiss top-flight. However, if FCZ won, the two teams would be tied on points and the visitors would become champions owing to their superior goal difference.


The game kicked-off in a packed St. Jakob Park. The visitors took the lead in the 30th minute, but the hosts equalized in the 72nd. At the 90th minute mark, it was still 1 – 1 and the Basel faithful were preparing to commence celebrations. However, in the 90 + 3rd minute, the ball fell to FCZ’s Iulian Filipescu just outside the six-yard box, and he diverted it into Basel’s net. The referee blew for full-time immediately after the game restarted and the FCZ players, and their travelling fans began their euphoric celebrations (some spilling over onto the field). Meanwhile, a disappointed group of Basel supporters invaded the pitch and began attacking the FCZ players. The police formed a line near the center of the field, to prevent the Basel hooligans from advancing andto keep the two sets of supporters from clashing. Once the police gained control inside the stadium, the melee continued outside – and it went on late into the night. Ultimately, 115 people were injured and 15 were hospitalized.

While all these events may seem like myths and rare occurrences, triggered by the most dramatic circumstances, I can assure you conflicts are quite frequent. I personally witnessed FCZ fans square off against the Geneva police after a Wednesday night fixture between FC Zurich and Servette FC. I do not know how the situation escalated – maybe the police were at fault (people rarely consider that) - but a brawl did occur.

A cloud of smoke arises as FC Zurich supporters clash with the Geneva police outside the away section at Stade de Geneve.


Another blatant contrast between Swiss football and society features Swiss trains. Trains in this country, along with its other forms of public transport, are known to ‘work like clockwork’. They are said to be punctual and efficient, while boasting scenic views. The inside is usually very civil, with professionally attired men and women typing away on their laptops or quietly answering phone calls. However, the SBB designated train that takes ultras, and more casual supporters alike, to away games is remarkably unlike a standard commuter train. It looks ordinary enough from the outside, but on the inside, it is unlike anything you have been in. I was fortunate enough to return from Bern (after watching Servette play Young Boys) on one of them and I had the time of my life - despite the stench of cigarettes and beer. In one compartment people were singing Servette songs, in another it was French rap, and in the third the lights were dimmed, and it was transformed into a night club. Men were chasing each other with fire extinguishers, Section Grenat stickers were being stuck on the walls - it was a vibe.


However, I kept getting told that the train to an away game is more fun. In a video I came across on the internet, a Servette supporter was showing off the ‘menu’ on offer on one such train – two guys were stirring up fondue in a Section Grenat branded pot, while another fan was making fresh sandwiches in a portable panini maker. What better way to travel to the football (The SBB officials would be horrified if they knew).


Personally, I am not one for luxury watches or Swiss army knives. I hate wearing suits and I know nothing about finance. I am not always on time, and I am terrible at skiing (even if I manage to afford it). However, I do love football: I love vocal supporters, pyro, tifos, and forming relations around the beautiful game. Some of my most memorable football experiences (and Swiss experiences) have involved Swiss football. I relished every moment in the Tribune Nord of Stade de Geneve – from my first visit when I was dumbfounded by the firework show in the away section, to the many games I spent jumping and singing with the Servette Ultras. Club football in Switzerland could not be more unlike stereotypical Swiss society, and that is just what I love about it.


(Also, I just wanted to make it clear that I do not stand for hooliganism or violence at football games).

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